Catching up with Panthers legend Thomas Davis on life after football, working sidelines

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As Panthers legend Thomas Davis sat at a table at Harris Teeter in Ballantyne on Thursday, handing out samples of wine spritzers, kids and families raced toward the former linebacker in excitement.

The fans too young to know exactly who he was were debriefed by their parents about his storied career in Charlotte, reminiscing about four NFC South division titles and quarterbacking the Panthers’ defense to Super Bowl 50.

Davis was there to promote the adult beverage brand Cool Cat but spent most of his time high-fiving and signing autographs for the more than 100 shoppers who abandoned their errand.

“I’m all about supporting minority businesses, especially within our community,” Davis said. “As a minority businessman myself, I know how hard it can be sometimes. And it’s always exciting to be able to interact with fans. They didn’t have to take time out of their schedules to be here today.”

Two of those fans were Banner, 5, and his four-year-old brother Logan. Their father, Doug Sheldon, and wife Christina were grocery shopping when Cool Cat and Davis started setting up. After the checkout line, Banner and Logan exchanged high fives with Davis and left with signed hats and plenty of photos via mom.

“The Panthers have always been a big big part of of our lives, you know, got up every Sunday,” Doug Sheldon said. “(My boys) aren’t going to be able to see (Davis) play. So for us to be one-on-one with him, a guy we watched go on Super Bowl runs when they were babies, we love it.”

Davis enjoyed every photograph asked of him on Thursday, because he loves photography. After retiring with the Panthers on a one-day contract last March, it did not take long for Davis to rejoin the Bank of America sidelines. He served as a guest photographer for the Panthers media team in Weeks 11 and 16, proudly using all his own equipment which he’s amassed over the years.

His appreciation for photography began 20 years ago when his oldest daughter was born. Davis started purchasing cameras to document his children’s lives. Now with four kids, Davis records as many moments as he can.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of pictures or a lot of memories from my childhood,” Davis said. “When comes to photos and videos, I capture everything that my kids do.”

Thomas doesn’t know if he’ll be on the sidelines snapping stills this season. He’s plenty busy supporting the lives of his multi-sport 14-year-old son and 12-year-old cheerleading and hoopster daughter. Davis immerses himself in his children’s extracurricular activities.

He lights up talking about his 20-year-old at the University of Kentucky, and his college-bound 19-year-old.

“Being able to spend every moment of every second that I have with them has been truly special for me. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t miss football,” Davis said. “As a dad, you just get proud and you get excited to be able to be a part of those things. When I was playing, I might not have had an opportunity to be a part of some of those.”

As he chronicles his children, Thomas has stayed involved with the Panthers. Last week he made a fan-favorite appearance in the 90s-themed schedule release video. Davis posed as an ice cream truck driver who sold “Keep Pounding” bars, “Spider Burns” sticks, and “Ice up, son” push-ups.

He also served as the Panthers’ second-round pick announcer during the draft. Carolina did not make a second-round selection so Davis never took the stage, but he did meet No. 6 pick Ikem Ekwonu. Davis spoke at the NFL Commissioner’s breakfast before the draft, and afterward Ekwonu, a Charlotte native, approached Davis to thank him for showing up at area schools during his 14-year career.

Ekwonu introduced himself as if Davis did not know who he was.

“I was like ‘I know exactly who you are, man,’ ” Davis said. “It’s just him. Even taking that time to speak to me in that space. That really speaks to his character. Speaks to what kind of kid he is. So I’m excited to see him added to this team and what he’s gonna do.”

As the Sheldons headed for their car, the past and future of Panthers football collided. Banner and Logan smiled gleefully about meeting a legend they don’t remember watching. Their father took in a proud dad moment and spoke hopefully about the upcoming Panthers season he’ll share with his wife and two boys.

“I’ve been waiting for some line movement forever. It’s always me preaching, ‘it doesn’t matter who your quarterback is if you don’t have an offensive line,’ ” Sheldon said. “So getting Ikey was good. It was a shock, but the best shock you can ask for.”